SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD John Maina has lived at Kiamariga area in Mathira, Nyeri County, for more than 30 years.
He lives close to a 130-acre piece of land which lay idle for all those years. During the rainy season, it’s mostly swampy and marshy.
Most residents graze their cattle there, while young children have been playing there. The police have also used the idle land to detonate colonial bombs.
But now, it is being turned into a solar power farm. Nyeri county government, led by Governor Nderitu Gachagua, has given that land to an incoming investor for a Sh8 billion solar power project.
The county energy executive, Joseph Kiragu, says the renewable energy project should be up by December this year.
“We are in the process of placing an advertisement in the daily newspapers so that investors can apply as per the new terms and conditions,” says Kiragu.
He notes that many investors have shown interest in renewable energy after the investor’s conference in Nyeri in November 2013, where some pledged more than Sh105 billion worth of projects.
The project is expected to produce 50 megawatts, enough to power the entire Nyeri County, which has a population of more than 700,000 people.
Once the investor produces power, it is sold to Kenya Power for distribution.
The county government will also get royalties.
“Our mandate is also to prepare energy demands record for the county and bring in investors,” Kiragu adds. They have already secured some of the necessary licences.
“Other licences are from Energy Regulatory Commission, National Environment Management Authority, Kenya Forest Service and Ministry of Energy among others,” adds Nyeri acting director of Energy Joram Karimi.
He says they also need a licence from the Kenya Airports Authority since the land is near Sagana State Lodge’s flight path.
“The investor will also be required to seek licence from Kenya Wildlife Service in order to ensure that the project is not along the migratory route of elephants from Mt Kenya Forest to Aberdare forest,” the director adds.
Rural Electrification Authority board chairman Simon Gicharu welcomes the Nyeri project saying Kenya must exploit its solar energy.
He says Kenya should learn from Germany, which has large solar energy projects.
“A country that is smaller than Kenya and with only about three months of sunshine per year, Germany, produces a total of 35.2 terawatt in hours, currently the highest in the world. Surely, Kenya can do much more with all the sunshine all year around,” he says.
Gicharu says there is need for key players, from business people to consumers, to play their part to and government’s efforts in ensuring a greater uptake of solar technology.
“We need to encourage our youth polytechnics and related institutions to offer training in solar technology to create a pool of young Kenyans who have the knowhow. This will create skills to deal with solar technology,” he adds.
Energy Regulatory Commission says that many investors in the country are interested in investing in renewable energy.
ERC Director General Joe Ng’ang’a notes that the government is to popularise renewable energy.
“We are also happy that some counties have started tapping wind power and are in consultation with companies involved in harnessing the resource,” he says.
Ng’ang’a maintains that any investor who has an interest in solar energy must have the necessary licences.
A report released in 2013 on energy sector showed that in Kenya, the main sources of energy are wood fuel, petroleum and electricity accounting for 69 per cent, 22 per cent, and 9 per cent of total energy use respectively.
More precisely, 67.5 per cent of electricity is generated using renewable energy sources which are predominantly hydro with 47.82 per cent and Geothermal with 12.4 per cent respectively, while 32.5 per cent is from fossil fuels.